BOSTON – When the House amended an energy bill last November to remove an obstacle to the placement of wind turbines in Buzzards Bay, critics complained that it was done with little notice and no debate.
The issue of opening Buzzards Bay and other ocean sanctuaries around the state to renewable energy development will be publicly debated today in the House, but it still promises to be controversial: The same renewable energy amendment is included in a proposed ocean management bill that is scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi has said the amendment merely resolves conflicting language in state law that allowed traditional generating facilities, but not renewables like wind or tidal energy in state waters. Rep. DiMasi said renewable projects would still be subject to local and state approvals.
But critics, including several leading environmental groups, say it would open the door to unlimited renewable energy development in Buzzards Bay and most of the Massachusetts coast.
It would remove a major obstacle to a proposal by Boston developer Jay Cashman to place up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. Mr. Cashman and Rep. DiMasi are close friends, though Rep. DiMasi denies the legislation is a favor.
Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth, has filed an amendment that would strip the amendment out of the oceans bill and require a full hearing and separate vote. Rep. Quinn had expected a separate vote on the amendment after coastal legislators met privately with Rep. DiMasi last month to address their complaints about the November vote.
“So instead of the ‘Cashman amendment’ being offered by the proponents or proponent, we are offering this amendment to strike this section so that a dramatic change of law of this magnitude be required to go through the normal legislative process,” Rep. Quinn wrote to his House colleagues. “This would require the proponent to file this as a separate bill and allow the stakeholders and impacted communities to be heard, just like every other bill that rank-and-file members put forth.”
The proposal to allow renewable energy development of such a scope in ocean sanctuaries is opposed by the Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Audubon. The Senate stripped the provision from its version of the energy bill.
The environmental groups also object to the House’s version of the ocean management bill, saying it is weaker than a bill that passed the Senate. Both bills call for the state to plan for development in state coastal waters.
In a joint letter, the environmental organizations said the oceans bill that passed the Senate was much stronger. It would set timelines and require ocean activities to be consistent with the management plan. The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable.
Rep. DiMasi had convened a working group of coastal legislators to work on the House version of the oceans bill.
“We are very concerned that the House bill abandons core measures that would give purpose and meaning to ocean management planning and fails to strike a reasonable balance in allowing renewable energy facilities in state ocean sanctuary waters,” the two environmental groups wrote.
The letter was signed by John Clarke of Mass Audubon and Priscilla Brooks, director of CLF’s ocean conservation program.
DiMasi spokesman David Guarino said he could not comment on the letter from the environmental organizations, since he had not seen it.
“Depending on what happens in the House, we will have to work out the differences with the Senate as we do on any number of issues around here,” Mr. Guarino said.
Mr. Guarino said it also should come as no surprise that the ocean sanctuary provision was in the oceans bill.
“It was clear to everyone in that meeting that the amendment that was added to the energy bill would be part of the oceans bill, and it will have a full debate on the floor once that happens tomorrow,” Mr. Guarino said Tuesday night.
By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer
13 February 2008
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